Pardon my recycling, but rather than re-type everything, here are the email updates I've sent out so far:
Hello family and friends!
We arrived in Port-au-Prince safely and only an hour behind schedule at 4:00 this afternoon! Our bags were collected and transported by some very helpful Hatians, who were arguing amongst themselves about who was going to get paid for their efforts. :)
We were driven through downtown to the guesthouse, which was pretty cool -- lots and lots and lots to look at. Everything from painted advertisements on the walls of every house, to chickens and cows in the middle of the street, to UN police, to the Hatian taxis, brightly painted, looking like they are held together with duct tape and a prayer, painted like the Muppets took over, and packed so tightly people are hanging out the backside!
We've had dinner and are about to take a swim before going to bed. There is a computer in the guesthouse with free internet access, so hopefully I'll be able to send frequent updates!
I attempted to send an email yesterday morning, and just as I was finishing up my message, the power quit, (in the true nature of Haiti -- city power is unpredictable, and although the guesthouse has a back-up generator, it isn't strong enough to run more than the essentials,) so I lost my message. Alas! I try again today.
First, if you have heard on the news about the "manifestations" in Port-au-Prince, know that we are tucked away safe in the guesthouse, far away from downtown Port-au-Prince, where all the mischief is happening. The government has also set up road blocks to prevent the riots from spreading, so we should be just fine. Our guesthouse management expect that the manifestations should die down in another day or two, so we hope to still be able to go downtown later in the week.
Sunday, we attended worship at College Bird, the wealthiest Methodist Church in Haiti. Nine churches were gathered at CB that weekend for a large Methodist conference, which is why we were unable to go to St. Martin's. The service was incredibly long and hot, in a mixture of Creole and French (and, boy, is my French rusty!!), and we had to leave early (after two hours - HA!) because we had an appointment to keep that afternoon. I was impressed with the Hatian congregation's singing of hymns -- they all sing at the top of their lungs, with great conviction and faith. Perhaps our congregation could take a few hymn-singing lessons from the Hatians!?!
Yesterday, we met up with a friend, Junie Hyacinthe, and toured a construction project she is heading near Aristide's university. She is working on funding and constructing a large hospital, boys and girls residences for orphans and boarding students, and a school. The children were very sweet, and excited to see their pictures on the backs of our digital cameras! Junie's story behind the beginnings of the project was very inspiring. Essentially, she exclaimed one day that she wished she could do something about all of the children living in the streets; someone overheard her and offered her two rooms in their dental clinic if she decided she wanted to do something about it! The rest is history. :)
In the afternoon, we travelled with several gentlemen from St. Martin's, our sister church, to Duplan, a slightly more rural church and school, which has a library we are attempting to model St. Martin's after. They took measurements and are going to begin building shelves this week. Unfortunately, by the time they will be ready to have us help catalog and organize books, we will be back in the States! However, they are ready to forge ahead without us.
I was disappointed our project with the library was essentially taken out of our hands, but the more I thought about it, I guess it is a good thing. Having the opportunity and the time to volunteer is really a luxury -- there are many folks in this world who cannot afford to NOT get paid for their work, and many of them live in Haiti. I suppose if we give the project over to the folks at St. Martin's, we are creating jobs, even though temporary jobs, for many people here. Once the library is complete, St. Martin's hopes to offer evening classes for adult education as well -- training folks in things like sewing, and offering part-time jobs to the teachers of those classes. Exciting!
Today, we plan to go to CEPAM (the Methodist home for the aging,) and build their chairs. I can't wait to meet the residents and staff! Wednesday, we plan to tour Grace Children's Hospital in the morning, and shop for the craft sale/scholarship fund in the afternoon. We have already seen many beautiful pieces of beaded voudoo art, as well as paintings and stone and wood carvings. If the manifestations clear up today, we will go to St. Martin's on Thursday morning and meet the school children, (my request for this trip!), and spend some time practicing our bargaining skills in the street markets in the afternoon. We also hope to visit the National Museum of Haiti.
The weather is beautiful, the food is great (a blend of Caribbean and African, with a few American rarities, like pancakes, thrown in for good measure!), and we are having a wonderful time. Thank you all for keeping us in your thoughts! I will try and write again later this week.
First off, we are all still safe and locked up (behind a high stone wall) in the guesthouse. We are not being allowed to leave, to even poke our heads outside the gates, until the management/staff feel it is safe. So we are all reading, playing cards, and talking a lot. (Napping and swimming, too!) One of our neighbors gave us a little grief -- teased us about why we weren't enjoying our Caribbean vacation by the pool more! :)
The manifestations have escalated, and we've heard groups of protestors walk by the main gate on the other side of the compound, near Frere church. This morning, they were chanting, "The people are hungry -- Preval says nothing!" We have also caught whiffs of tear gas that, we believe, the UN troops are using to try and break up the groups of protestors.
Our guest house managers expect Preval to make a statement on Hatian television today, and hope after his statement, things will calm down. They will gather us when it's time to hear the statement, and translate for us.
We still hope to be able to continue our projects later this week; if nothing else, we hope to be able to fly out safely on Saturday! If not, we'll just sit tight and change our flight information. We'll keep you all posted.
Keep us, and the hungry Hatian people, in your thoughts!
(The associated press has picked up the story, so you can find more information on almost any news source, including Google News. President Preval did make a speech on Hatian television this afternoon -- we'll have to see what happens next!)